Throughout the month of September, TMR editor and CHN senior writer Mike McMahon will begin previewing the 2018-19 Hockey East season with preview capsules on each of the 11 teams in the league. Projections (and picks) were based on a formula that takes into consideration returning scoring (with a multiple to account for player improvement and development) as well as scoring lost, returning save percentage and shots for/against from the previous season. There was also a factor added for freshman scoring, which took into consideration the average goal total per freshman, per program, broken down by defensemen and forward in an effort to gauge an average “recruit strength” per team.
For the purposes of the picks, I’m going to let the model do that for me. In breaking down each team, I’ll add my own thoughts and let you know if I think the model has a team too high, too low, or just right.
Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh
2016-17 Record: 15-19-2, (11-12-1), T-5th
2018-19 Projected Record: 10-22-2
Changes: I’ll be honest, it feels strange dropping a team from fifth to last after punching in all of the data, but it begins to make some sense when you look more into the roster. There wasn’t a lot of space between fifth and 11th in the league last season (8 point difference), and we’re projecting UConn to finish about five games worse than they did a year ago. Obviously the biggest contributing factor is losing Max Letunov (28 points) to an early signing but the Huskies also lose 24 points (and 12 goals) from Spencer Naas. Overall, we’re projecting that the returning UConn lineup will score 51 goals this season with freshmen accounting for 18 goals, which is a drop of 21 goals from last year’s team (100). It’s tough to rely on freshmen, but UConn will have to get significant scoring from Ruslan Iskhakov (2nd round pick, New York Islanders) and Jachym Kondelik (4th round pick, Nashville Predators).
Strength: Adam Huska has the potential to be one of the best goalies in the league, and considering the bottom half of the league isn’t separated by much, a big season from him could mean significant things for the Huskies, even if their offense dips. Huska had a .912 save percentage this season, and the projection model assumes that save percentage will be about the same this upcoming season, with some minor fluctuation. But, Huska has the potential to be a .920 or even .925 goalie (he was a .931 goalie his last year in the USHL). Changing around the numbers, if we project UConn with the same amount of goals, but a .920 save percentage from Huska, the projected record goes up by three wins (13-19-2). If Huska is able to perform at a level of .925, the projected record moves to 14-18-2, which is more in line with where the team was last season, despite the probability of less scoring. Huska has the ability to be a game-changer for UConn this winter.
Weakness: On paper, UConn looks thin on defense. Johnny Austin (19 points) graduated and Joseph Masonius (16 points) signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins following his junior season. With Derek Pratt also graduating, that leaves Miles Gendron (9 points) as the top returning scorer from the blue line. Adam Karashik (8 points) played 29 games as a freshman and other returning D include Philip Nyberg (20 games) and Wyatt Newpower (15 games). Gendron (Ottawa) and Nyberg (Buffalo) are both NHL Draft picks.
2018-19 Outlook: The other thing that could change UConn’s fortunes is a top recruiting class. Neutral Zone has UConn’s class ranked as No. 4 in the nation, and our projection model only uses past freshman scoring. While the model projects UConn to score 21 less goals, if the freshmen account for more than 18, the goal differential will be different. Much of that will depend on how many goals Iskhakov and Kondelik can account for, and how much more will they produce over past UConn freshmen. If you piggyback a better-than-average freshman class for UConn, along with perhaps improved save percentage numbers from Huska, and it could be a much different story for the Huskies.
While the model slots the Huskies at No. 11 in its projections, I think there is a lot of upside. The ceiling for this team is very high, especially if that recruiting class comes through early and Huska can perform as well as I think he can. However, if the freshman class performs similarly to the way previous freshman classes have, and Huska continues to be between .910-.915 as a goalie, then I think we’ll see the Huskies win between 10-12 games.
2018-19 Hockey East Picks